Benefits Column the Workplace

HR executives who want to compete for a modern workforce need to consider weaving some element of flexibility into their culture to win the attraction-and-retention game.

Monday, March 6, 2017
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Every job I've held throughout my career has had some element of flexibility, including variable hours, a condensed workweek, ability to adjust my hours to handle the unexpected and remote work.

It's been my lifetime desire to work for companies that allowed me to adapt my schedule so I could be successful at both work and home. My first employer established this in me. There, my manager set a requirement with his cadre of young healthcare, science and clinical professionals to collegially negotiate everything about our workplace: from the days and hours we worked to office space to paid time off.

Not only did my director's approach create an effective workplace, it taught us how to respect our co-workers and the demands of their lives.

Some people might call this an unusual method to crafting work/life balance -- and they'd be partially correct. But it also established a workforce of engaged and dedicated employees. When our parent company was going to increase full-time employee hours from 35 to 40 per week, the administrator asked us to track the time we put in. The results shocked him. All employees in our division were clocking an average of 45 hours -- before the hours-worked requirement was raised.

We didn't realize it at the time, but we were working in a results-oriented work environment and a flexible workplace was one of the key elements of that setting.

When HR executives consider designing benefits that attract and retain workers in today's environment, it turns out they should take a page out of my first boss' stylebook.

Gallup's 2017 State of the American Workplace report opens its section on benefits with this bullet: Fifty-one percent of employees would change jobs for one that offered them flexible hours. This survey indicated two major takeaways: The benefits and perks employees truly care about are those that offer them greater flexibility, autonomy and the ability to lead a better life; and, if leaders want to compete for a modern workforce, they should consider weaving some element of flexibility into their culture.

As HR leaders continue to search for ways to satisfy millennial employees, they should note this generation is more likely than Gen Xers or baby boomers to say they would change jobs for a particular benefit or perk. The ability to work off-site part- or full-time is important to half of all millennials.

More importantly, Gallup identified flex time as the sole differentiating benefit (among all benefits employers offer) that most employees say they would change jobs to get, and correlates most highly with employee engagement and well-being. Sixty-three percent of millennials value this ability to change their hours and schedules as needed, as do 47 percent of their Gen X and boomer colleagues.

While Gallup only identified three elements in its definition of workplace flexibility, a new company, Werk, is helping employers distinguish six variables that constitute a flexible work culture. These features include Gallup's flextime and the ability to work off-site part- or full-time as well as three new areas to consider: minimal to no travel requirements, last-minute adjustments to a work schedule to accommodate the unpredictable and the opportunity to reduce work hours while remaining in an advancement-track role.

The reason Werk founders Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean added the last three elements to their definition of a flexible employer is they saw a market opportunity to help millennial women continue to grow their careers while they also handle changing family caregiving demands. Both executives are mothers and they found their "ambition did not change with motherhood."

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What Werk does is connect employers with manager, director and vice president job candidates who need one or more of the six pre-identified flexibility parameters. Currently, 50 percent of the Werk applicants have more than eight years of experience, 62 percent possess advanced degrees and 35 percent are requested for interviews.

What I appreciate about Werk's flexibility variables is they provide a framework for HR executives to define what a malleable workplace looks like for their companies. A specific definition for workplace flexibility not only allows employers to attract and retain employees of all ages, it is also a blueprint for how a company accommodates workers with temporary and permanent disabilities.

A flexible workplace also has one added benefit that is near and dear to my heart. It has the power to allow millennials to continue to advance their careers while balancing life demands and it helps Gen X and baby boomer employees maintain their careers while handling caregiving needs. In fact, caregiving is not for older workers alone. Millennials now make up almost 25 percent of caregivers in the United States.

Given the new demands of the modern workforce, HR leaders who are trying to attract and retain employees may find it's time to bend, stretch and flex their workplaces.

Carol Harnett is a widely respected consultant, speaker, writer and trendspotter in the fields of employee benefits, health and productivity management, health and performance innovation, and value-based health. Follow her on Twitter via @carolharnett and on her video blog, The Work.Love.Play.Daily.


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